Have you ever gazed at a child with admiration while they run around completely comfortable in their own skin? A baby never plays with their feet and criticises their delightful rolls, they never stop to question if they should hold their tummy in, or hide their body; they simply feel free with how and who they are. Oh, the innocence of prepubescent youth before society threw self-love under the bus!
As girls start to develop, we begin the lifelong struggle of body image and self-worth. While we are all born loving our body unconditionally, as time goes on we begin to develop our human ego and with it arise the perils of ‘the body beautiful’.
That’s when question such as “Am I good enough?” or “Is my body beautiful enough?” rear their ugly head. Well, who bloody told us otherwise and why did we listen?
According to German-American psychologist Erik Erikson our “ego identity is developed by human interaction and how an individual becomes more conscious of themselves and their surroundings”. It is at this stage that we begin to compare ourselves to others.
By the time we reach our teens our body is no longer something we love unconditionally and can become the subject of harsh criticism and an object we judge rather than love.
Have you ever looked back at an old photo of yourself from 10, 20, 30 or more years ago to find the younger you looking healthy, youthful and slim yet at the time you felt overweight, fat or even ugly? Basking in the wisdom of later years, you may then think to yourself: “I looked great – what WAS I thinking?”
What would you tell your younger self now?
As an experienced weight loss coach, I know we would all love to tell ourselves to stop worrying about what we look like and to love our body with far more compassion. So why is it so hard? What happens to our body and our self-image as we age?
Our teens and 20s tend to be years where we are more self-conscious of our body than any other time in life. As we develop sexually and begin seeking a partner, we tend to take conscious care of ourselves. Seventy percent of gym goers fall into the age group of 18 to 34 years; it is at this age that we are especially mindful of our weight and figure.
During our 20s we tend to compare ourselves to others and care more about fashion trends and what other people think of us.
However, for most women, our 30s are spent running around after children and/or building a career. These are the years we have the least time for ourselves, have the least sex, experience the most stress, and our weight battle truly begins!
No longer do we have the time to attend to the gym, we are tired and worn out from running after our precious little people and/or the boss, and we simply fall to the bottom of the list.
Our pre-baby body that responded so well to weight loss efforts begins to slow down, and the energy we used to have fades. During these years a number of hormonal shifts occur and our body composition (fat/muscle ratio) begins to snowball into oblivion so that, as we reach our 40s, our lifestyle catches up on us.
Our 40s are the years we seek to reclaim our body! At this time, health becomes a major motivator, and we become less concerned about being seen naked when we change into our bathing costume. We begin to reflect on the kind of relationship we’ve had with our body, and start to reframe our self-image and body image. But for most women it’s a struggle.
Reclaiming our body requires more than a simple diet or balancing of hormones; it requires a shift back toward self-love. Not to throw words around lightly, this is a challenging feat and begins with self-reflection.
As age hits us and our beauty starts to fade, we begin a life review, which forces us to reassess both what we think and feel when we look into the eyes of the person we see in the mirror. We now know it’s time to heal and make peace with ourselves, so we begin to rebuild our relationship with our body.
Culturally, this can be more challenging for some than others. I know having spent a year in Los Angeles, where youth and ‘the perfect body’ are rated so highly, that women over 40 can become almost unseen wallflowers. It’s sad, but a well-known fact in LA, and if I’m honest, I found it extremely confronting and triggering that certain pockets of society can be so shallow and ego-driven. Let’s face it, I’m a country girl from little ole New Zealand and my LA experience was enough to put me off living there. The bottom line? Surround yourself with people who appreciate and respect authentic beauty.
I believe that when we truly love ourselves and want to live the best life possible, we will take great care of being. We will want to be the healthiest version of ourselves and to do this, it’s vital that we approach weight loss holistically. We cannot separate the physical body from our mental, emotional or spiritual selves. While we may seek answers in the physical world, it is our emotional and spiritual world that will determine the long-term outcome of any diet.
Having worked as a weight loss coach for three decades, there is nothing I haven’t heard and what I know to be true, is that weight loss is ultimately a mental, emotional and spiritual journey. We must heal our lives in order to truly love and accept ourselves. Sometimes that means facing our demons and challenging our inner critic; it certainly involves healing our self-image and our body image so we can return to the self-love we experienced as babies before the world told us we weren’t enough, and we started to believe it.
The truth is, you are enough, no matter what you’ve been through and what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are enough and worthy of love, and you are worthy of living a healthy and long, happy life. So what can you do for yourself today to hush the inner critic? Whatever you tell yourself, you will eventually believe. So start each day by putting on some upbeat music and telling yourself how jolly fantastic you are!